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Plans to expand stop and search to protests are looking for trouble

Police say ‘we want more powers’, home sec asks ‘how many’?

Not content with relaxing guidelines around its use, home secretary Priti Patel seeks to extend the use of stop and search into the area of protest policing.

Netpol reports that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary will deliver a full report on ‘how effectively the police manage protests’ in February 2021, from which the government may seek to amend Sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Britain's Conservative government is planning to introduce major changes to public order legislation to crack down on protests, under a new “Protection of the Police and Public Bill” planned for 2021

— Netpol (@netpol) November 26, 2020

They also intend ‘to introduce new grounds for using stop and search powers in order to “prevent significant disruption”, which could include searches for items that protesters could potentially use for direct action or civil disobedience, such as D-locks or climbing equipment.’

This would, in effect, allow the police to add a section 60 condition on protests before they’ve begun, based on the entirely subjective whim of any officer, who, in their infinite wisdom, could confiscate everything off an individual save for the shirt on their back. It’s already not beyond officers’ egos to tell people what not to wear; legislation merely emboldens them to issue more chilling on-the-spot edicts.

Although ‘the impetus for seeking changes to legislation comes primarily from the senior ranks of the police’, it seems our current home secretary is only too happy to oblige, and one can only get the impression that Patel neither cares nor understands that the freedom to protest as a form of dissent is a cornerstone of our liberty.

And so stop and search becomes yet another state tool harnessed for the purpose of reducing the act of protest to nothing more than a polite parade, an impotent procession of grievances, ignored and ridiculed by those who see or hear of it. ‘What was the point of that,’ they will jibe, ‘surely if you wanted to spoil a good walk, you could have played a round of golf?’

The Netpol article states that ‘the ability of people to collectively take to the streets in opposition to government policy does not need managing, it needs protecting.’ However, these fresh attempts to neuter our right to protest using stop and search is yet another indication that this law-and-order-obsessed government will do nothing of the sort.

Written by Eugene K, communications volunteer for StopWatch UK coalition.

Lead image by Hybrid on Unsplash

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